Chris Mathien is the Illinois creative behind the band and studio project Mathein. He also writes and produces for advertising campaigns and his clients include Ralph Lauren Polo, Nike, and Disney among others. He is one of the most prolific songwriters I’ve ever come across. He’s a super fun follow on the streaming platforms because there is always new music.
Old Man: Thank you Chris for agreeing to do the interview. This is a new blog and artists like you really make this a fun project. I feel like you are such a unique artist that it would probably be smart to start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself and your music.
Chris: I’ve been at it for a while now, I’ve been releasing music for two decades and it's opened doors to so many diverse musical situations. Festivals, tours, film scores, sold-out theaters, guitar session work, vocal session work, getting signed, producing for other artists, getting unsigned, recording all over the world, recording at my parent’s house, hearing my music on the commercials, hitting a couple of million streams on Spotify ... the list goes on. I’ve played shows with Benny Sings, Pokey LaFarge, Bilal, Soul Asylum, and Natty Roots to name a few. If the variety in that list is any indication that the music industry just doesn't quite know where to place me, it might make sense when you hear my music. Might not. I’ve been ignoring/embracing genre since 2002.
Old Man: Perhaps one of the most interesting things about what you do is how much new music you’re creating. In 2021 you put out 5 albums (50 songs!). You’re also creating music for commercials. What is it that you do that allows you to tap into so much creativity and how do you keep yourself refreshed and vibrant?
Chris: Yeah, I've always been hyper-creative. I’m kind of obsessed with surprising myself and pushing my music to different realms and heights. The high output is natural. Recently I started releasing so much and it was starting to feel like I was racing against other artists and algorithms. This year I became involved with a couple of labels in Amsterdam and they've been helping me put out my material and connect me with other artists. It's allowing me to be more intentional with what I'm releasing and when I release it. So it might appear that I’m slowing down from an outside perspective, but the vault will always be filling up.
Old Man: You really seem to love the process of building a song. I’ve caught you on Instagram doing a live stream while creating a song track by track. Watching you move between instruments, a microphone, and a computer to make something new was really cool. I thought that was a great way to share what you do. Can you talk a little bit about how you go about creating a song? Where does the process usually begin? Is there a particular instrument you like to begin the process with?
Chris: I think with creating new tracks, routine is the enemy. I produce the best results when the track starts differently than past tracks. I’ve started so many song ideas with drums that I really try to begin new songs with ANYTHING else (laughs). Lately, I've been trying to conceptualize the music before I sit down in the studio to perform it. This makes the process a little more decisive.
Old Man: Like a lot of your fans, I discovered you through the song “Wurlitzer Crowley.” I want to encourage readers to go to your website and check out the video.
What has kept me coming back to your music is a couple of different styles, among the many, you create. The first style beckons back to 60’s R&B with a pop appeal. Your songs “Longview,” “She,” “Having a Blast,” and “You Let Me Get Away It” have that vibe for me. The other is the late 70’s early 80’s soulful pop/jazz crooner. Your songs “Say (Was It Something I Said),” “Love (Or Lack Thereof),” and one of your newer tunes “So (If I Can’t Have Your Love)” really takes me back to guys like Grover Washington, Jr. What artists influenced you?
Chris: I like that you brought up “Love (Or Lack Thereof).” I wrote a lot of the songs based on the idea that "if you sing loudly enough no one is ever gonna hear you." For me, this was a direct reaction to the pandemic. Truthfully, I felt this false sense of "Oh lock me in my house? Ha... jokes on you I'm perfectly fine with staying here creating songs." But in actuality, I was scared just like everyone else. I think you can hear it in that song, and a lot of the other tracks from that record.
My biggest influence by far is George Clinton. He really put out so much and was never afraid to experiment or hone in on a specific genre. Also, the great solo artists of different eras really informed my journey as an artist. Trent Reznor, Prince, Beck, and Peter Gabriel are all major influences. However, I actively listen to a lot of music. Jazz, French pop from the 60s, Brazilian music, gospel. I am a huge music nerd. I love researching too. I recently discovered this folk singer, Connie Converse, who made a few records, quit music to become an activist, and then disappeared into obscurity. I love that every artist has a story.
Old Man: "First, it amazes me how often I hear an artist say George Clinton was an influence. His music both shaped and liberated so many artists. Second, Trent Reznor is a surprise. But now that you mention it, The Downward Spiral album does have a lot of great experimental elements.
So you mentioned Connie Converse’s story; what is your story? How did you start this adventure into music?
Chris: My parents were cool. They had us trying everything. I tried martial arts, figure skating, and football. Nothing stuck until I found my aunt Marge's guitar in her basement closet. I remember taking it out and immediately being able to teach myself Nirvana songs on just one string. It really just made sense to me. I was playing a lot of Sega Genesis and PC games at the time. One day my dad brought home a pirated version of Acid Pro and once I figured out how to record music on a computer, I pretty much didn't give a shit about video games ever again. Ok, but I did just get Mario Kart for Switch (laughs).
Old Man: Can you tell me a little bit about your work in commercials. How did you get into that work? How is creating music for a commercial different than creating a song for radio or streaming?
Chris: I got a call to make music for a Puma web ad back in 2014. I remember a lightbulb going off when that happened. The Project Manager was like "sorry the budget sucks" and then proceeded to pay me 2 months’ worth of rent for my house in Tennessee. I think it motivated me to find more opportunities like that and it was only a few months later I was quitting my bartending gig and my job at Starbucks. Making music based on what someone else is trying to specify is really fun because I enjoy the task of trying to pinpoint what the visuals need to be and what the client is looking for. Every now and again I make something for a brand and then it ends up becoming a Mathien song. Another situation happens where a brand needs music, and something I’ve recorded previously works perfectly for what they need. I’m like "Here just cooked this up 13 years ago... this should work" (laughs).
Old Man: Live concerts are back. I’m curious if you were able to catch any bands this year and if so, can you name a couple of bands you especially enjoyed?
Chris: I saw Tobe Nwigwe at the House of Blues in Chicago. It was easily the best hip-hop show I've ever seen. And I saw Redman stage dive off a 20 ft speaker tower in 2009 when he and Method Man opened for Snoop Dogg. Never thought that moment would get beaten out, but Tobe has an amazing band and choreography. It felt spiritual.
Old Man: What a perfect venue to catch his show.
So, what’s next for Mathien?
Chris: I have an album called Artichoke coming out in June. And then whatever else I make for the rest of the year will be released in December through Hush Puppy Records. Other than that, I’m just enjoying life. Headed to L.A. for my birthday next week. I think Lisbon Portugal in may for my honeymoon, and then Jamaica in August for my wife's Grandmother's birthday.
Old man: Wow. That's brilliant. Enjoy the travel and congratulations!
I really appreciate your time and will be following you and sharing your tunes on the blog and with our Instagram followers.
This interview was conducted via email. Chris was super cool and there was a lot of back and forth putting this together. Give Mathien a follow. He’s amazingly talented and you won’t follow a better dude.